Mind and Body

Bacteria thrive in the 'go green' age, Dr. Germ warns



Trying to save the environment is having an impact none of us can see -- the germs are loving it.  

Shunning paper towels and adopting green bags, low-impact household chemicals and cold wash cycles is leaving us awash with bacteria, with tests showing "clean" clothes now contain more germs than those worn by our grandparents.

It is also technically safer to make a sandwich on a toilet seat than the average cutting board, such is the amount of bacteria on kitchen surfaces from preparing raw meat.

US infection control expert Charles Gerba said debate about exposure to dirt being useful for building immunity often confused approaches to cleanliness and good hygiene.

"We now share more spaces with more people than ever before -- we are a 'touch' generation," Professor Gerba, also known as Dr. Germ, said on a visit to Australia.

"A hundred years ago we didn't have TV remotes, iPhones and shopping carts. But everything you touch, 100 people have touched that day before you and left a trail of germs.

"You gamble with germs and it is a matter of trying to keep the odds in your favor."

Gerba said bathrooms were often over-cleaned while kitchen surfaces were sanitized and disinfected far less frequently.

The germ load in the laundry is no better. Washing machines are silent germ magnets, swimming in E. Coli that can breed in water left in the base of the drum.

Gerba, in Australia to discuss bacteria control, recommends using a bleach tablet to clean the machine weekly.

"Your clothes are far germier than your grandparents were because most people use cold water washes and short wash cycles," he said.

"The average wash load has 2-3g of feces [around one ounce] in it."

Using warm cycles and clothes dryers may not be very "green" but they do help to kill the germs, he said. Fecal matter can cause illnesses such as salmonella, gastroenteritis and diarrhea.

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